All the conditions were just right for the Cal Poly women’s volleyball team to catch fire Saturday night.
A regular-season record crowd of 2,917 packed Mott Gym to see if the Mustangs could avenge a 3-0 loss to Stanford in the regional semifinals of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We just wanted to take advantage of this bomb we had ready to go off in the gym,” Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson said.
But like an extinguisher, the sixth-ranked Cardinal breezed to a 25-17, 23-25, 26-24, 25-10 win.
The Mustangs committed 35 attack errors and brought their season attack and service error total to 353 (compared to opponents’ 302) while falling to 5-6.
After entering the season ranked 10th, they now find themselves at No. 25.
“We really had a sort of venting following that match – the girls were very upset,” Stevenson said. “It was a match that we obviously could’ve won. . We know that we’re very close to being able to play against the best.”
The loss was the Mustangs’ fifth against teams now ranked in the top 14, but they took at least a set in four of them.
“It makes us realize we definitely have the potential to beat anyone in country,” said senior opposite Kylie Atherstone, who was named Monday the Big West Conference Player of the Week for the 11th time. “We could’ve won if we were more fundamentally solid. We know wve have the weapons offensively and defensively; we just can’t be intimidated.”
If the Mustangs need any proof that a turnaround is possible, they don’t need to look any further than last year, when they also started 5-6, before winning 18 of 19 prior to the regional semifinals.
This year’s regular season, however, concludes with two late-November matches at No. 7 Hawaii.
“It’s been a recurring theme for us against the top teams that we’ve played,” Stevenson said. “Whether that be Nebraska or Stanford or Cal – we’ve had our chances and we’ve been in those matches and have not been able to get the job done at critical times.”
Stevenson, who said he’s had “very little sleep over the last few days,” is taking solace in last year’s run that was preceded by the similar lull.
“Today, for me, is all about analyzing as much as possible what we’ve done so far and making as many good comparisons to what happened last year,” he said. “Where we are right now is at a very major crossroads, a major juncture in our season.
“It’s a clean slate,” Stevenson stressed. “No one’s got a grade in a class.”
The Mustangs, the only top-25 team with a losing record, have passed virtually every recent test provided by the Big West, which they’ve gone 28-2 against over the past two seasons.
They’ll try to pick up where they left off at 7 p.m. Friday at Cal State Fullerton (6-8) before visiting Cal State Northridge (5-7) on Saturday.
No. 22 Long Beach State (10-2) and UC Davis (8-5) are the only Big West teams with winning records.
“We’ve been working on our hitting percentage, not making mistakes, staying positive on the court and making sure we minimize errors,” Atherstone said. “Regardless of our win-loss record, we still go into the Big West knowing we can be a dominant team.”